Playlist on the high seas

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A couple weeks ago, Rob Griffiths and I spent a week aboard the MS Veendam as part of MacMania V —a combination of a Mac conference and A Western Caribbean cruise. We taught classes on a variety of topics, such as maintaining your Mac, finding cool and affordable software, and using iWork. But the class that will likely stand out for me—in terms of how fun it was to “teach”—was one that had little to do with the Mac itself; that session was called “iPod Add-Ons: The Best of Playlist.”

In the hopes of preparing a fun diversion from all the “let us teach you stuff” classes, I prepared a presentation on many of our favorite iPod accessories. How fun could that possibly be? Very, as it turns out—especially when you bribe the attendees. You see, I had door prizes. Boy, did I have door prizes.

Thinking that a giveaway would be fun, before the cruise I e-mailed the manufacturers of some of the accessories I was covering and asked if they’d be interested in donating a sample or two that I could give away to attendees. I expected to get a few responses; instead, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of these vendors. (To be clear, I asked about products I had already chosen to cover; none of the products I included in the presentation were there because we got samples to give away.)

By the time we set sail, I had a veritable cornucopia of iPod-related booty. (Needless to say, the ship’s porters weren’t too happy with me when I boarded the ship with my suitcases plus a palette of boxes. But I tipped well.)

Being able to give away prizes during a class is always fun. But made the session especially fun was that the people who attended had absolutely no idea I was going to be giving stuff away until partway through the presentation.

The entertainment began after I finished talking about cases, the first part of the presentation. I mentioned, casually, that I had some cases to give out, and asked for room keys. (The ship used room card-keys, each of which had the guest’s name printed on it, so these keys were perfect for drawings; you simply collected them from your “students,” shuffled them, and then drew cards.) I proceeded to give out about 30 iPod cases to the appreciative attendees, from Agent 18, Contour Design, iMojo, OtterBox, and XtremeMac.

Then came headphones. No one expected to come away with new headphones, yet—thanks to Sennheiser and Ultimate Ears—I had some very nice products to give away, worth $60, $80, $100, and $250. The fun part of this particular drawing was that I started with the least expensive models and gave the winner the option of passing to keep their name in the running for the higher-end models. Surprisingly, a good number of people passed on the excellent Sennheiser PX 100 for a shot at Ultimate Ears’ 5 Pro. It was Deal or No Deal on the high seas.

The same sequence played out as I talked about general accessories and accessories for the car. Excited attendees walked away with accessories such as Belkin’s TuneTalk Stereo and TuneDeck for iPod nano; DLO’s HomeDock Deluxe and TransPod; and lots of gear from Griffin Technology, including iTrips, SmartDecks, TuneFlex nanos, TuneJuices, and iSqueezes.

By this time, I’d given out hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of gear, and there wasn’t a single sleepy eye in the room. For those of you who’ve ever given a presentation—let alone one on a cruise ship in the late afternoon—you know what a rare feat it is to keep every person in the room engrossed.

But the best was yet to come: speakers. I covered around 20 of the best iPod speaker systems on the market, in categories ranging from full-size home systems to alarm clocks to lightweight portable models. And as it turned out, I had five recommended systems on hand: Altec Lansing’s $129 inMotion iM500, $199 iM9, and $249 iM7; Logitech’s $300 AudioStation; and JBL’s $349 Radial. Surely these weren’t to be given away, were they?

Doing my best Steve Jobs, I uttered the magical words every Mac fan loves to hear: Oh, and one more thing… I then informed my attendees that, well, I just didn’t feel like lugging these speaker systems home with me—a statement that generated more than a little excitement.

This time, the drawing wasn&38217;t so simple. I had each person write down their name and which speaker system they wanted a chance at. This approach added some strategy to the drawing: Should you put your name in the hat for the cheapest system, hoping no one else would—thus giving you a good shot at it? Or would you go for the gold—in this case, the Playlist Pick-recipient JB Radial —knowing that it would be a popular choice and your chances would be slimmer?

By this point, we had gone over our allotted class time, but no one was interested in leaving. I started the final set of drawings with the least-expensive system, Altec Lansing&38217;s svelte, nano-docking inMotion iM500, and the attendees were literally on the edges of their seats. Everyone wanted to see if they won their own drawing, of course, but they also wanted to know how many people had entered each drawing and who was going home with which of the “grand prizes.”

The most exciting of these drawings was actually for Logitech’s AudioStation, a very nice iPod speaker system with an attractive design, an AM/FM radio, and a clock. At $300, it was the second-most expensive product, but only two people put their names in for it. Two! For whatever reason, everyone thought that everyone else would consider the second-most-expensive system to be the “most strategic” item—near the top, but not the actual top—and, thus, assumed that everyone would put their name in for it. So no one went for it. With a 50 percent chance of winning, the two entrants were more than a little excited, as was everyone else in the room. Someone had to win and someone had to lose, but both people confessed to having a lot of fun.

In the end, every attendee walked away with at least one new toy for their iPod, and it was a great way to end the week of classes. So thank you to the “sponsors” of the presentation, and thanks to everyone who attended. It was quite the memorable class!

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